Thoughts on ‘The ‘Busy’ Trap: Why We Feel we Need to Appear Busy

A couple of weeks ago a friend on Facebook posted this link… The ‘Busy’ Trap by Tim Kreider. It’s an article about today’s society and how “busy” we all are.

I can’t help but think we get trained to think we need to be busy, how to be busy. In college, a good student can juggle a full course load, a job, studying, and social time. That’s “busy,” and somehow it seems like the way things need to be.

I remember getting out of grad school and, upon getting a job, being delighted at having free time. I didn’t have to study. I didn’t have to worry about a deadline the next day that would take all of my time. I didn’t have to plan a party or get ready for coffee hour the next morning.

Then I found my way into the world of advertising for work. And entered a corporate atmosphere that thrived on “busy.” People announced with pride when they were in “back to back” meetings all day. It was nearly a badge of honor when someone was booked out for a whole week. To add to that insanity, “fly paper” meetings (when someone stops you in the hall and you’re stuck like a fly) became a norm. Not only were we all busy, but then we were late to the next meeting because we had an inbetween meeting. And more often than not, when in a meeting a majority of people had their iPhone or laptop with them and were paying attention to something else, answering an email, then asking if the leader could repeat themselves.

What keeps resurfacing in my head from Tim Kreider’s article is this quote, this well phrased observation:

“Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”

Is that why we long to be busy? Is that why people walking alone on a busy city street will pull out their iPhone, appearing to read or write or listen to something, anything to show they are connected, and part of something larger than their present “alone” moment? Are they trying to send the message of “I’m not alone, I have other people who need me and important things to do?”

I can’t help but wonder why in this busy world, we can’t be OK with just being. Being still, being quiet, being happy that we might have a moment to ourselves. Why sometimes it’s hard to even walk down the street without feeling like we need to be doing something else, or appearing to be doing something else.


Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been looking for ways to be unbusy. I want to just sit in my yard, watch little Zoom play, I want to cut flowers, to take in moments for what they are. I have been working hard to stop my mind from thinking “what next?” and just think “here I am.”

Yesterday at work, my brain froze up. There was too much busyness going on, too many opinions, too many new ideas, too many people wanting a project to go one way when we’d already agreed it would go another. My brain needed to get out of the building, to just “be.” I found myself thinking about what Kreider puts so very well –

“The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

What do you think about busy-ness in today’s world? Are you busier than you’d like to be?

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2 responses to “Thoughts on ‘The ‘Busy’ Trap: Why We Feel we Need to Appear Busy”

  1. joyinthechaos Avatar

    I think this can be especially true for the stay at home Mom, a danger that can lead her to spending too much money, desperately trying to be too crafty, etc. It is that dreaded question at the end of the day, “What did you do?” that drives us to need, fixate, stress about the busyness. I honestly don’t think my husband has this struggle at all. He is so content to being present. great blog!

  2. Paula Avatar

    Thanks Kath 🙂 I feel that “what did you do today” pressure at home, and to try and quiet the storm of “there’s so much to do” I think we’re going to start using a chore list. LOL, not so we remember to do everything, but so that with our ADD-tendencies, we don’t try and do everything all at once and get in over our heads.